Lost in Translation

So, after nearly 6 months, I thought I would finally try to make a contribution to the blog.  I’ve been so impressed with Kiersten, Madie and Jack’s dedication to this – and I thought it was time to pull some weight myself.  We get so excited when we hear that all of you are reading these.  We really do miss all our family and friends terribly and it is great to share these experiences.

Before I begin, I wanted to say how sad we all were to hear about the tragedy in Connecticut.  The story has been completely dominating the papers down here.  Obviously, part of the story is Americans and our guns but people are also just talking about how very difficult this holiday season must be for those families and communities.  Awful.

Getting back to our experiences in Chile … one of the things I’ve been getting more involved in at work is recruiting.  It is really hard for me because of the language and culture gap … but I haven’t found anything that makes me feel connected down here quite the way recruiting does.  Bringing in new talent makes me feel like part of the base.

Anyway, we had a particularly tough recruit last week – with an incredible background and a number of offers from similar companies.  We knew he was leaning toward one of the other offers based on a belief that we were too demanding (e.g., too many long hours, too much constructive criticism, etc.) and too serious and uptight.   The team thought it would be a good idea for me to go talk to him.

I’ll admit – I was pretty nervous for a number of reasons.

First, I really HATE losing recruiting battles.

Second, for those of you who know me, I can be a pretty good recruiter when I really believe in something and (well) a pretty awful one when I have my any doubts whatsoever.  I actually think the hours we work in Santiago ARE way too long.  I was quite nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to dissuade him of this notion.

The operating model here (in Chile in general) has a bit more of a “face time” aspect where people generally stay at the office until the last person goes home … and they adopt a work pace that goes along with that.  There isn’t yet a strong enough bias toward squeezing every last bit of productivity out of the hours from 9-5 so that people can get out of the office in time for fun with family and friends.

Third, I wasn’t sure I was the guy to convince him we weren’t uptight since I’m pretty sure I count as uptight down here.  I know … you wouldn’t think a guy who moved his entire family from the United States to Chile (mostly because they thought it would be fun) could be seen as uptight.

But if you start to look at some of the facts from a Chilean perspective … I’m pretty sure I am.  For one, I am American – and that alone puts you in the uptight bucket down here.  We live in the suburbs now (Maryanne – I’m not going to make a Buckhead vs. Midtown comment here since we all know Buckhead isn’t a suburb but a diverse, cosmopolitan city all its own that just happens to be near Atlanta).

And then you get into the behavioral stuff … I seem quite fond of breaking my thoughts into structured (even numbered) lists of things which is a huge no-no down here; I wear undershirts which means you’re uptight even in California but here it probably suggests I’m thinking about entering the priesthood. So I wasn’t sure I was the guy to convince him that we weren’t uptight either.

Despite my concerns, the “meeting” seemed to go well.  We had pisco sours (EVERYONE drinks pisco sours- even though I don’t like them I was trying to be cool) and found a mutual fondness for Shanghai where both of us had spent time in the last few years (quite the picture of globalization).  I shared all of my adventures with him; as is typical, he was more interested in my time at the NBA than anything I have done since.  He shared his plans for the future; as is typical, I was shocked to see a 22-year old kid with such well-developed plans for the future.

I tried to hang with him – talking about all the things I had seen colleagues his age move on to do after a few years working with us (e.g., PE work in Moscow, running a charter school, starting a rice farming business in Ghana, etc.).  I used A LOT of English unfortunately … but I left feeling pretty good about the conversation.

When I got home, I got a note from one of the young Chilean guys in the office.  He was friends with the recruit and had spoken to him after our meeting.  The short note said “In his words, ‘John Murnane es la Zorra!’.  I will let you figure out what that means.”  I quickly googled “la zorra” in spanish.  The first site offered translations that weren’t very encouraging.

http://www.interglot.com/dictionary/es/en/translate/zorra

Subsequent sites didn’t offer much more hope …In fact, it became much more bleak.

http://www.spanish-only.com/2009/01/spanish-word-of-the-day-zorra/

I replayed the meeting in my head and I couldn’t possibly understand where things went wrong.  Aburrido (boring) perhaps or maybe arrogante?  But a filthy insult seemed like a lot.

I responded to my colleague saying, “from the looks of my google searching, I probably won’t be needed on any future recruiting efforts.”  So what I hoped would be a real meaningful contribution to my new office, it now looked like I might actually be a liability in recruiting.

Later that evening my colleage finally let me off the hook and told me that while the official word in Spanish (and in Chile actually) was what I had discovered online, the young kids had taken to use it to mean “cool.”

To protect my self-confidence I haven’t tried to validate this unofficial definition with anyone outside of the office. I like the story better this way.

Oh, and he did accept our offer.

2 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. John Murnane! I love your story! You are totally Zorro to me! Oh wait, it was Zorra! Love you guys and your blog. Xoxo bliss

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